UN hub reaches remote Pacific islanders to tackly rising sea levels

Anjali Sharma

GG News Bureau
UN Resident Coordinator for the North Pacific Jaap van Hierden on Tuesday said that the communities of thousands of Pacific islands are the frontline gamechangers tackling the climate crisis, and a hub based in Micronesia hosts over a dozen UN agencies are helping address some of their most pressing needs as they battle existential threats like rising sea levels.

“They do not want to leave their ancestral places, even if they go under,” said Jaap van Hierden.

He oversees ongoing development efforts across a remote region with thousands of small islands comprising of small populations that are the stewards of a vast expanse of ocean and Earth stretching more than 7,000 km from Palau to Kiritimati island.

He spoke ahead of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States held in Antigua and Barbuda.

He explained how the UN Multi-Country Office, known as MCO Micronesia, where 13 UN agencies now operate, was created.

“This mostly undeveloped and rather pristine part of the Pacific is not well known. Except for Palau, these countries are not yet holiday destinations.

He said that apart from receiving some US funding, all 5 countries in the region – Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati appear somewhat forgotten and left behind by the global community.

The need for an effective engagement by Micronesian leaders was needed with the UN and its General Assembly which led to a review of UN multi-country offices and the subsequent establishment of his post.

Jaap van Hierden learned that Micronesians are at the frontline of climate change with Marshall Islands and Kiribati at risk of disappearing under the waves of our ocean within the lifetimes of our children.

It is facing a similar existential risk were the numerous low-lying outer islands of Palau and Micronesia  with its four states of Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae.

Micronesians have been champions in our shared fight against climate change and leaders and advocates in highlighting the importance of reviewing vulnerability through multiple dimensions.

They have contributed to the ongoing “loss and damages” discussion that should help them adapt effectively against rising sea levels and worsening weather events, he added.

They have acted upon their responsibilities as stewards of our vast ocean through the establishment of marine protected areas UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves and more.

Micronesians are highly dispersed, with less than half a million in number, all on small islands with small populations, who neither have the economies of scale nor the skills and resources that we find in countries or subregions with a similar geographical expanse.

They are stewards of a vast expanse of our ocean and the sea floor, we cannot afford for them to be vulnerable, and he said that the UN is stepping up its engagement in Micronesia to ensure that no one is left behind and to ensure that we help build a better future for all.

These islands were small, with our subregional host, Pohnpeiabout 30,000 people on island with many left for education or work in the United States.

They were able to establish a fully functioning UN MCO Micronesia within two years after arrival in Pohnpei in late 2021.

The coordination offices are in place for Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati, and a fully functioning Resident Coordinator Office has been established.

The new office has enabled UN organisations to initiate the decentralisation of their work from Fiji and Samoa to Pohnpei. That resulted in expanding our UN footprint in Pohnpei from five in 2021 to 13 today.

He had worked with the governments of Micronesia and Pohnpei in setting the stage for the design and construction of the carbon-neutral One UN Micronesia House that incorporates Micronesian history and culture into its design and landscaping.

An undertaking that will include a conference facility will help us in bringing more UN-convened events to Micronesia and allow Micronesian leaders to engage with international leaders and experts on their home ground.

The Islands had made good progress with land allocated by Pohnpei State Legislature, and a launch ceremony for the final design and construction will be held.

Mr. Jaap van Hierden said that being on the ground makes a huge difference in appreciating and understanding the developmental and humanitarian challenges and opportunities within each of the five Micronesian countries and four states of Micronesia.

In order to convey this effectively within our UN team, he travel and engage with government counterparts, embassies, development partners, civil society, faith based leaders, chambers of commerce and communities.

He concluded that together, we aspire transformational change that leaves no one behind and helps a better future for all, one in which our planet with its finite natural resources and unique biodiversity is a key stakeholder.”

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